Managing Paradoxes

From the Herman Trend Alert email newsletter (sorry, no link):

Agile Thinking Skills. In this period of sustained economic and political uncertainty, and, agile thinking and the ability to prepare for multiple scenarios is vital. In industries that face significant regulatory and environmental challenges, including life sciences, and energy and mining, the ability to prepare for multiple scenarios is especially important—72 percent and 71 percent respectively, compared with 55 percent for the overall population of respondents. To succeed in the changing marketplace of the future, HR executives also placed a high premium on innovative thinking (46.0 percent), dealing with complexity and managing paradoxes (42.9 percent).

I couldn’t agree more with them – “agile thinking” is critical in the today’s world.  Everything is moving faster which inevitably leads to change.  The best candidates we assess have strong scores in these agile areas – Practical Thinking, Theoretical Problem Solving, Using Common Sense, Intuitive Decision Making – these are all measurable traits that help identify the strongest candidate.

So much has changed over the past decade that it is problematic that companies continue to use outdated hiring models.  There are better tools today, tools that will provide more insight into an external candidate that what you may know about an existing employee!  May I suggest you test drive one of these assessments to see the power behind them?  Contact me if you would like to see what is available today.

Leadership Jargon

Oh does this Sales & Marketing Management article hit me where I live.  The gist of the article is the corporate speak many leaders use in hopes of sounding…smarter?  I really don’t know why they do it.  I have encountered this approach when working with leaders and their teams.  Assessing teams provides insight into how the team interacts and how the leader interacts with the team.  There are many leaders out there who seem preoccupied with the latest buzzwords and corporate speak.

A waste of time in my opinion.  Apparently the author shares this view:

“My leadership philosophy is to optimally leverage the passions of my people such that at the end of the day we maximize employee engagement to get them to think outside the box and synergistically drive value-added activities in a profit-maximizing way that is a win-win for our people, our shareholders and our customers.”

“It sounds great,” says leadership trainer Mike Figliuolo. “It is polysyllabic. It uses words with long definitions. I have only one question: what the hell does it mean?”

Amen.  I have no idea what that means either and I have heard that type of mush in many interviews.  I prefer this anecdote from the end of the article:

The boss went first, emphasizing the importance of teamwork, trust and having fun. Other participants took their turns and suddenly buzzwords were being tossed out like parade candy. One team member was uncomfortable with the emptiness of what was being said, however, so when it was his turn to speak he said simply, “My leadership philosophy is simple. Say what you mean. Do what you say.” He then turned and took his seat.

The Lamest Of Excuses

CareerBuilder.com comes out with an annual list of Most Unusual Excuses and this year’s list does not disappoint.  Here it is from a press release (my personal favorites in bold):

1) Employee’s 12-year-old daughter stole his car and he had no other way to work. Employee didn’t want to report it to the police.

2) Employee said bats got in her hair.

3) Employee said a refrigerator fell on him.

4) Employee was in line at a coffee shop when a truck carrying flour backed up and dumped the flour into her convertible.

5) Employee said a deer bit him during hunting season.

6) Employee ate too much at a party.

7) Employee fell out of bed and broke his nose.

8 Employee got a cold from a puppy.

9) Employee’s child stuck a mint up his nose and had to go to the ER to remove it.

10) Employee hurt his back chasing a beaver.

11) Employee got his toe caught in a vent cover.

12) Employee had a headache after going to too many garage sales.

13) Employee’s brother-in-law was kidnapped by a drug cartel while in Mexico.

14) Employee drank anti-freeze by mistake and had to go to the hospital.

15) Employee was at a bowling alley and a bucket filled with water crashed through the ceiling and hit her on the head.

True confession here:  I get up and walk in the early morning long before sunrise and am familiar with bats at that hour.  They do buzz your head looking for insects (I think that is why).  Anyway, I ALWAYS wear a baseball hat in the summer to prevent any bats for “getting in my hair.”  The fact that the employee used the plural “bats” is…questionable.

The President’s Club

This is a funny story from Yahoo:

The company that makes Hot Tamales candy offered its sales team an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii if it met its annual goals, and a trip to the nation’s arctic tundra if it didn’t.

The Just Born team did not meet its target and, on Tuesday, about two dozen salespeople gathered inside the 19-story Radisson hotel — the tallest building in frozen Fargo.

Outside, the temperature was 7 degrees. The ground had 2 feet of snow.

It gets better:

They are trying to make the best of it, with a little humor.

They planned tours of two North Dakota wineries and a winter extravaganza with a sleigh ride, tobogganing and hot toddies around a fireplace inside a chalet.

On their first night in town, they went to the VFW in West Fargo for a spaghetti dinner. Five bucks a plate, all you can eat.

Afterward, they hauled an old-school popcorn machine into a conference room and watched a movie. "Fargo," of course. Yah sure, you betcha.

This is actually some fairly clever management.  I suspect the sales team will talk about the Fargo trip far more than they ever would have discussed a trip to Hawaii.  I also suspect it will be fairly motivating for next year.

Management Mental Short Cuts

I’m back in my psych book this morning looking for a specific answer to how managers get stuck on “bad” instances from otherwise strong performing salespeople.  I’ve seen this effect with some sales managers who have a generally sour impression of a salesperson who seems to be doing well in the role.  When I pursue the topic with the manager, I typically hear of anecdotal stories with what seems to be innocuous outcomes.  However, the sales manager is still upset by situation.

Here is what I discovered in the test book – availability heuristic.  Availability heuristic is basically this – making judgments based on how easily instances come to mind.  From the textbook:

Which is more common – words that start with the letter k (e.g. king) or words that have k as the third letter (e.g. awkward)?  In English there are more than twice as many words having k for the third letter as words starting with k, but most people wrongly judge that k is more commonly the first letter.  The reason, presumably, is that it is easy to think of words starting with k but harder to think of words having k in the third position.

Here is the hook:

When a boss evaluates an employee’s reliability, he may be guided by how easy it is to remember the employee’s missing a deadline.

The authors provide a good example of air travel – millions of people fly innumerable miles all over the world and flying is one of the safest modes of travel.  But many people ignore this face and become reluctant to fly because plane crashes are so readily available in their memory.

Managers need to be cognizant of this mental short cut.  Some salespeople become labeled based on this effect.  Before moving into end-of-year reviews, make sure you perform a thorough reconstruction of each salesperson’s performance.  Remember – don’t take short cuts.

Sinking Stock Syndrome

I made that up, Sinking Stock Syndrome, from some interactions I have had recently with a couple of small business owners.  Both owners suffered from this syndrome which had disastrously negative effects on their company, both in revenue and morale.

Here is how I define my newly-minted syndrome – an irrational hope that a grossly underperforming salesperson will miraculously turn things around and become a sales superstar.

It rarely happens.

The problem stems from the business owner who has invested in this failing salesperson.  Notice I used “business owners” – I do believe this syndrome is more prevalent among this group as they are closely tied to the business (i.e. financially, emotionally, historically).  They usually have a relatively accurate count of the resources invested in this salesperson.

The sinking stock analogy will be understandable to anyone who buys and sells stock.  When you purchase a stock, you expect (hope) it increases in value.  When it goes the other way, you encounter a sinking feeling as you have now lost money.  It is at this point that you need to make cold, objective decisions about the stock.  Is it going to rebound in an acceptable time frame or did you make a bad investment?

The temptation is to hang on to the stock with the expectation it will turnaround and at least get back to the buy price you paid so you can break even.  While you wait, the stock drops further and you have now lost more money.

Hope keeps you from dumping the stock.  The desire to earn back what you have lost keeps you from making the tough decision to sell.

Business owners can get caught in this same trap.  They know a salesperson is not performing and that they are losing money by continuing to keep them in the role.  Other employees see that this salesperson is not closing deals and they start to become upset.  This salesperson stays on the payroll even though it is clear that he/she cannot do the job.  At some point, the tough decision has to be made.  It can be to put together a get-well plan for the salesperson.  However, most times it is to part ways…or should I say cut your losses?

It is difficult, almost an admission of failure that hits the owner directly.  But it has to be done.

Facebook Faux Pas

This story will do down in the annals of management malfeasance.  A good friend of mine works for a small company that had an atrocious employee.  This employee couldn’t show up on time (if at all), didn’t seem to know what she was doing and created great dissent within the team.  Unfortunately, the owner made the emotional hire and didn’t want to admit his error, at least not in a timely manner.

So this employee continued her employment with my friend’s company for almost 6 mos. and the stories that surrounded her were almost unbelievable.  She missed work all together and offered these excuses:

  • overslept
  • reaction to medication
  • robbed while she slept
  • didn’t know she worked that day

You get the idea.  To top it off, money was missing from the petty cash – something that had never happened before her arrival.  A terrible hire and a worse employee.  The owner finally came to grips with the situation and terminated her employment on a Friday.

Later that same day, the former employee sent a text into one of the employees to say she was mad that the employee had posted something on Facebook regarding her termination. The employee did not know what she was talking about.  The employee had not posted anything of the sort.

The former employee would not back down via text and know that something had been posted.  It took a day to sort out the complaint, but they did discover someone had posted something about the termination on Facebook.

It was the owner.

He ended up removing the post and apologized to the former employee.  Unbelievable.

How To End Time-Management Excuses

I currently reading Jason Seiden’s new book How To Self-Destruct Making The Least Of What’s Left Of Your Career.  You may have guessed from the title that part of the book is written tongue-in-cheek.  In fact, it is quite entertaining and a fast read.

I’ll provide a full review once I complete the book, but I had to share this insightful commentary for all sales managers.  When it comes to excuse-making, one of the favorite topics is time.

“I didn’t have time.”
“I ran out of time.”
“There wasn’t time to ask that question.”

These are excuses that need to be corrected.  I realize time constraints do occur, but I am speaking more to the chronic excuse-makers.  The next time you hear one of these lines from one of your salespeople remember this:

Never blame time for your problems:  time is the one constant that is absolutely the same for everybody.  Time may be the only thing in the whole wide world that never discriminates.

Well said.

Gas Prices Leading To A Sea Change

According to a Workforce Management article the buzz at the SHRM conference inolved rising gas prices and the wide-ranging effects it is having.  In fact, the conference’s opening press event highlighted its recent poll showing how companies are trying to assist their workers.  The two most noted solutions were flexible schedules and telecommuting.  Some of the other ways they are helping are four-day weeks, gas cards and car-pooling.

John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas made a great comment (my bold):

These are more than short-term fixes, Challenger says. They are the beginning of a revolution in the office that will result in productivity being the central value of work, rather the number of hours logged by employees. They also dovetail with other trends like globalization and a 24-hour view of the workday that accommodates all time zones—Asia, Europe and the United States.

“The idea of a set workday or a five-day workweek doesn’t make sense,” Challenger says. “It’s not about the time you put in. It’s about the work you do.”

Businesses often get stuck in a rut.  Some managers find micromanagement to be intoxicating.  These managers tend to veer away from solutions that would give freedom to our people and relinquish perceived control.  I think Challenger is correct – these “old-school” approaches are in for a major overhaul.

Defining Leadership

Inc.com’s Boss School blog discusses a topic that seems like it might be a distinction without a difference – leadership vs. management.  However, I think the author hits a perfect chord right at the start:

Leadership isn’t the same thing as management. Leadership is about providing vision as to where the company is going. It’s about inspiring and motivating. It’s about instilling a certain amount of comfort that someone wiser than you is going to figure a way out of a mess.

I often think of managing as being somewhat akin to being a zookeeper.  You keep things in order and provide needed resources.  That’s not the greatest metaphor, but you get the idea.  Back to the blog post – here is the observation that caught me attention:

Don’t get me wrong. I think everyone wants a fearless leader. But I also think there’s a fine line between sounding positive and sounding delusional. You lose credibility. Done in the proper manner, an honest “negative” appraisal of a difficult situation can be positive if it leads to a good plan of action. It is an opportunity to show the staff that you are critical of yourself and take responsibility.

It is unnerving to work for a leader who seems out of touch with reality.  Leaders who refuse to address the realities of the situation are problematic.  They refuse to acknowledge the present realities which leads to a lack of corrective actions.  We’ve seen a handful of companies absolutely crater under this type of leadership.